The southeast corner of 42nd and Emile Streets today is marked by a large hole in the soggy Nebraska soil.

But by fall 2018, the corner will be the site of a new, four-story building featuring replicas of hospital settings where students and health professionals alike can practice treating lifelike, computer-driven mannequins. They’ll also have at their disposal new high-tech visualization and virtual reality tools — some the first of their kind in the world — that will allow them to virtually map a brain tumor or see how a protein folds.

University of Nebraska Medical Center officials announced Monday that the $118.9 million center, which they expect to transform health care education, will be named the Dr. Edwin Davis & Dorothy Balbach Davis Global Center for Advanced Interprofessional Learning — or, for short, the Davis Global Center.

The name, which awaits approval by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, recognizes a “leadership gift” from the Dorothy B. Davis Foundation of Omaha. Edwin Davis was a longtime UNMC physician known as a forerunner in incorporating new technology to enhance teaching.

The university also announced major gifts to the University of Nebraska Foundation from nine other benefactors. The facility is being funded by a combination of private donations and public funding, with public funding coming from the federal government, State of Nebraska and City of Omaha.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts Monday called the center a “key strategic investment” in the community and the state. Also attending a ceremonial groundbreaking were Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, several regents, other elected officials, and benefactors and industry officials from around the world.

The 192,000-square-foot Davis Global Center will house two programs.

One is UNMC’s Interprofessional Experiential Center for Enduring Learning, or iEXCEL, which will allow medical professionals of all types and at all stages of their careers to develop and practice their skills together, as they would in a real medical setting.

“This is transformational,” said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC’s chancellor. Gold said he’s not aware of another center around the world that has the center’s blend of high technology, including a five-sided virtual reality environment and a 130-seat holographic theater, and hands-on applications.

“Learners do best by having experience, whether it’s learning how to play a sport, a musical instrument or, in my case, cardiac surgery,” he said. “The more experience, the more practice, the more hands-on opportunities we get, the better off we are to deliver high-quality, safe, effective and patient-centered care.”

The other program to be housed in the center is the National Center for Health Security and Biopreparedness. A floor was added to building plans last year after the university announced that it had received a $19.8 million federal grant to develop a new training, simulation and quarantine center in Omaha focused on Ebola and other infectious diseases.

Don Boyce of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, called UNMC a “trusted national resource” that has played a vital role in the nation’s efforts targeting highly infectious diseases.

“What we do in the field,” he said, “will be based in large part on the training and preparation you provide to us.”

The federal grant won’t fund construction but will pay for specific equipment and technology within the building. The State of Nebraska is putting $25 million toward design and construction and will contribute toward operating costs, and the City of Omaha is contributing $10.7 million. The center is expected to create up to 325 well-paying jobs and generate a projected $39.3 million in economic impact annually.

Pam Boyers, UNMC associate vice chancellor for Interprofessional Education & Experiential Learning, said the center is an interprofessional effort that will include disciplines from pharmacy to nursing.

While the use of simulation in health care is a growing trend, albeit one that lags airline and energy industries, its use so far has been confined to individual specialties, she said. At the same time, medical professionals are making a push toward team approaches, both in training and in practice.

“We want to make sure health care students as well as health care professionals get the opportunity to practice as teams,” she said, “so they’re really highly functioning teams when they take care of patients.”

Boyers said the Davis Global Center isn’t just an Omaha project, but a statewide network; iEXCEL officials are working to connect with UNMC’s site in Scottsbluff through special collaborative software. Eventually, plans call for being able to send images to and communicate with sites around the globe.

Because the technology is so new, Boyers said, UNMC also is partnering with a handful of technology companies to develop lessons to be used with the devices in the building. UNMC also will train its own workforce to develop educational materials.

Some of that development already has begun, with staff using samples of technology housed in an existing building on campus. Boyers said the university wanted to give staff, faculty and students a head start in using the technology so they’re ready to go when the Davis Global Center opens.

Nurses with Nebraska Medicine, UNMC’s clinical partner, used an iWall, a sort of wall-sized iPad that allows up to 12 people to collaborate, to create an educational unit to teach nurses the early signs of sepsis. If the infection is caught early, it can be treated. But some of the early signs are subtle. Sepsis is a problem in hospitals nationwide.

Jessica Strickler, clinical educator for some Nebraska Medicine intensive care units, said she and fellow nurse Sara Hooper wanted to create something more interactive than the online, PowerPoint-style modules they normally use. Working with the iEXCEL team, they settled on a 3-D image of the body that users could rotate. As users click on an organ, information appears describing what’s happening within that organ. Nurses who used the program took tests before and after. The team still is retrieving data, Strickler said, but as a whole, the nurses saw significant improvement in users’ knowledge of some body processes.

“This is the way health care is going, and we should embrace it,” Strickler said. “Hopefully, it can only improve the care that we provide to patients, which is the end goal.”

Boyers said improving care to patients, not the technology itself, is the real focus. “We put a lot of effort into telling people we’re not just purchasing technology for technology’s sake,” she said. “The important thing is to be able to apply it to the outcomes of care, and that’s where our mission lies.”

Pam Swisher, executive director of the Dorothy B. Davis Foundation, said the Davis family felt that the UNMC project was a fitting legacy for Edwin and Dorothy Davis. The foundation is a relatively new one, established in 2015.

Edwin Davis trained at Johns Hopkins University and served in World War I, the only urologist in the European theater. He came to Nebraska and served as chairman of the University of Nebraska College of Medicine’s urology department from 1920 to 1953.

He married Dorothy Balbach of Omaha in 1921. They had three children — Edwin Jr., Neal and Willa. Both sons became physicians. As he lectured around the country, Davis used a box that worked like a child’s View-Master and was built for him by his father-in-law to show a series of photographs of surgical procedures. He also was instrumental in the development of mercurochrome-220 as a new germicide.

But it was Dorothy Davis who was behind the family’s decision in 1957 to join Warren Buffett, then 26, in the launch of his business venture. Dr. Davis died in 1964 at age 75; Dorothy Davis died in 1980 at age 80.

The other major benefactors of the facility recognized Monday: Clarkson Regional Health Services; Robert B. Daugherty Foundation; Howard and Rhonda Hawks; Hawkins Sisters Foundation; Peter Kiewit Foundation; Ruth and Bill Scott; Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation; Martha and David Slosburg; and Dorothy and Dr. Stanley M. Truhlsen.

Get the latest health headlines and inspiring stories straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

Load comments

You must be a full digital subscriber to read this article You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.